Celtic out of Champions League despite victory
Celtic crashed out of European competition for the season, but Tuesday’s 4-0 win at home to Slovakian champions Artmedia Bratislava restored some pride.
Goals from Alan Thompson, John Hartson, Stephen McManus and Craig Beattie almost allowed the Glasgow giants to overturn their 5-0 defeat from the first leg, in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
Though new manager Gordon Strachan’s side were just unable to make amends for their horror show the previous week, the reaction at the end from their support showed their efforts were appreciated.
The Celtic manager was unhappy to be out of Europe but satisfied with his team’s attitude.
Strachan said: “It is a big disappointment for me, personally, that I won’t be able to savour that atmosphere again until next year.
“But I’m very pleased with the performance we gave. I expected it from the players who have been here for a while, as I know they can operate at that level.
“But the other players, who may not be quite as good, stood shoulder to shoulder with them and didn’t let them down.
“In terms of attitude, heart and determination, the performance was very good but we have to play better and get fitter.”
Artmedia Bratislava coach Vladimir Weiss was thrilled with his team’s success but paid tribute to the Celtic fans who had tried to play their part in helping their side to a miraculous comeback right from the kick-off and roared their heroes on while whistling and booing every period of possession by the Slovakians.
He said: “Of course we are very happy. We have got over a big team in two big games.
“After the 5-0 victory, it was very difficult to convince the players that a miracle could happen.
Thank God it didn’t happen, but it was close.
“I have played football for many years but I’ve never seen such an atmosphere; the Celtic fans were incredible.
“I’m very proud of my players that in such an atmosphere they were able to win over two games and to go further in the competition.”
Celtic took the lead in the 22nd minute after being awarded a penalty for a foul on Maciej Zurawski.
Thompson stepped up to slot the ball home low to goalkeeper Juraj Cobej’s left and give Celtic a glimmer of hope.
Before the match, Strachan had claimed his side needed to be two goals ahead at the break to have any realistic chance of overturning the 5-0 deficit, and in the 45th minute Hartson duly delivered.
Thompson played a long diagonal ball to Wallace, who headed on into the path of the big Welsh striker, and he steadied himself before unleashing a powerful right-foot shot low into the left-hand corner of the net.
Celtic started the second half strongly, but again they were struggling to make their dominance in possession count.
In the 54th minute, Strachan decided to replace Wallace with Shaun Maloney and within 30 seconds the change paid off.
Thompson’s corner seemed to have missed everybody, but Maloney stole in at the back post to smash the ball back across the goal and McManus ducked his head to nod the ball home via a deflection on the line.
Now the Celtic fans and players began to believe the impossible could be achieved.
And in the 81st minute, Beattie—who had replaced Zurawski in the 63rd minute—brought Celtic agonisingly close to being the first-ever side to reverse a 5-0 deficit in European competitions.
Mo Camara whipped a ball in from the left and the big striker met the cross with a powerful header from the penalty spot that flew into the left-hand corner of the net.
Despite their best efforts, however, Celtic could not get the vital fifth goal to keep their European hopes alive.—Sapa-AFP